Prepare San Diego is a regional resiliency initiative driven by the American Red Cross San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter to help prepare the San Diego region for human emergencies and natural disasters.
The initiative will partner local governments, school districts, businesses, universities, nonprofits, and community members to address all aspects of the disaster cycle: preparation, response, and recovery.
“Disaster can strike at any time,” said Councilmember Marti Emerald. “We are often not prepared.” Emerald emphasized that people could have a plan and be prepared, but they often think emergencies won’t happen to them.
Tony Young, chair of the local Red Cross and former council president, spoke on behalf of the Prepare San Diego initiative, saying that only seven percent of San Diegans are prepared for disaster, whether personal (like a house fire or a family member suffering a heart attack) or regional (like wildfires and earthquakes).
“The goal of Prepare San Diego is to get one million San Diego County residents to make an emergency plan, build a disaster kit, or get emergency training by 2017,” said Young.
Other goals of the initiative include increasing response by being able to shelter 25 thousand residents affected by disaster, as well as feeding 200 thousand residents a day. Prepare San Diego also hoped to be able to recruit four thousand event volunteers to help during community emergencies, freeing up first responders to be on the front lines.
San Diego is approaching the ten-year anniversary of the Cedar Creek Fire, which ripped through the county in October 2003 burning over 280 thousand acres from Julian to Miramar, destroying two thousand homes, and causing $2 billion in property damage. The fire also killed 13 civilians and one fire fighter and injured 104 fire fighters, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF). It was the largest fire in California history.
San Diego was also the site of the second-largest fire in California: the Witch Fire. CDF reports it burned almost 198 thousand acres in the San Pasqual Valley, Rancho Bernardo, Ramona areas and Palomar Mountain State Park-- destroying 1,125 homes, killing two civilians and injuring 40 firefighters.
The initiative isn’t just about large-scale disasters; it’s also about being prepared for smaller emergencies. Perhaps a family member chokes on food and needs the Heimlich maneuver or a soccer player at a local high school drops while on the field and needs CPR. The vast majority of people do not know what to do in emergency situations.
“Our police, our firefighters, our lifeguards, our first responders are out there, and they’re helping us after something happens,” said Councilmember Mark Kersey. “But the more prepared we can be before something happens, the better off we’re going to be.”
John Valencia, program manager at the Office of Homeland Security, spoke about updating the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the city and the Red Cross, as well as the City of San Diego Emergency Operations Plan (EOP).
The city and the Red Cross have a very good working relationship, Valenica said. However, the last formal MOU was signed in 1983 and is dire need of updating. It will outline the duties and expectations of each entity during disasters and allow the Red Cross to use city buildings in case of emergencies—creating a shelter out a community center for example.
Javier Mainer, Fire Chief for the City of San Diego, addressed the state of emergency response in the city.
“Our fleet is in the best shape in my (33 year) career,” he said. Mainer asked that more money be appropriated to the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT is a group of volunteers who are trained by the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department to respond in their communities after a disaster.
“There are more volunteers than there is capacity to train them,” said Mainer.
However, the fire chief said that the biggest hurtle to proper disaster preparation citywide was reflected in the sparse audience at the meeting: apathy.
“I think the majority of our population is fairly optimistic,” said Mainer. “They think they won’t be personally impacted by disaster, so it’s hard to get anyone’s attention.”
Both the Red Cross and the Fire-Rescue Department want to get the message out to people to pack a disaster kit and have a plan, because an emergency could happen at any moment. Lists and tips can be found at the Prepare San Diego website.